Where did rock and roll come from? And what has it come to?
These are the sorts of questions that cultural historian and veteran music journalist Jim Miller raises in his challenging new book about the rise -- and arrested development -- of rock and roll. Concentrating on the music in its early, formative decades, he explores how rock and roll was transformed from a joyous and sometimes earthy dance music in the 1940s into an abrasive, often angry art music by the end of the 1970s. Along the way, he celebrates a culture of youthful exuberance -- and critically analyzes how it was organized into a billion-dollar global industry.
Arguing that rock underwent its full creative evolution in little more than twenty-five years, Miller traces its roots from the jump blues of the late Forties to the disc jockeys who broadcast the music in the early Fifties. He shows how impresarios such as Alan Freed and movie directors such as Richard Brooks (in "Blackboard Jungle)" joined black music to white fantasies of romance and rebellion, then mass-marketed the product to teenagers. Describing how early rock and roll developed as a distinct form of music, he profiles a host of brash innovators: singers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, songwriters like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Chronicling the drug-laced early "acid tests" of the Grateful Dead, the mixed-media "happenings" of Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, and the utopian atmosphere at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, Miller describes how the counterculture of the late Sixties, came together -- and then fell apart.
Still, it was in these very years that rock androll proved itself to be the most profitable style of music in the history of show business -- something Miller analyzes by looking at the promotion of rock icons like David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. At the same time, he candidly recounts how trendsetting performers from Jim Morrison to Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols became ever more crude and outrageous and ugly -- "as if to mark the triumph," Miller remarks, "of the psychopathic adolescent."
"Flowers in the Dustbin" is steeped in the history of rock, richly anecdotal and entertaining, yet original in its analysis. Provocative and brilliantly written, it is full of fresh insights that deepen our understanding of rock's place in the social history of our time. [via]